ONE OF THE most prolific and restlessly creative musicians of the modern era, composer and pianist Bob James was a cornerstone of the “smooth jazz” movement in the late 1970s and into the ‘80s. He’s got a roomful of gold albums and Grammys for his collaborations with the likes of David Sanborn, Earl Klugh, Grover Washington Jr. and the all–star group Fourplay, which he co–founded in 1991 and still records and tours with to this day.
James’ signature fusion sound is best exemplified by “Angela,” his theme for the TV series Taxi, from his million–selling solo album Touchdown.
World traveler James lives in Savannah during the winter months, and, true to form, he fell in with perhaps the best musician in town.
That would be guitarist Howard Paul, who’s a member of the Coastal Jazz Association, CEO of Savannah–made Benedetto Guitars, and a legendary figure in his own right among global jazz aficionados.
James and Paul perform together Feb. 3 and 4 at the Jazz Corner in Hilton Head. (The shows sold out within hours. We suggest you call the club to check on last–minute ticket availability.)
Understand, it’s not a “Bob James concert.”
“Most people know Bob as the father of contemporary jazz,” Paul says. “When he started out, he was Sarah Vaughan’s musical director, in the early ‘60s. So he didn’t start out with contemporary jazz, he sort of created that along the way.”
The two were introduced in the spring of 2007.
“Shortly after we met,” continues Paul, “he showed up at the Jazz Corner where my quartet was playing, and sat in with us. My band is straight–ahead jazz. We don’t play Bob James’ material, because I’m really not a contemporary player. So he was kind enough to join us playing the more traditional, straight–ahead jazz that I play.
“And it turned out that he really missed it. And he really enjoyed the opportunity to get back to performing it, because it’s so much different from what he’s playing on a regular basis when he’s on the road with Fourplay. He’s also done a lot of classical recording lately.”
The music, Paul explains, consists of re–worked standards and classic tunes from the Great American Songbook.
“So this was kind of an opportunity for him to revisit the music of his youth a little bit. And it just so happens that that’s my specialty – that’s the kind of music I play. So we hit it off really well together.”
Over the past couple of years, as James’ touring and recording schedule allowed, he would sit in as a surprise guest with Paul’s band.
In 2010, both musicians were attending a private party in town, “where there was a lot of really good wine,” Paul laughs.
There also happened to be a first–class grand piano in the house. They couldn’t resist.
The impromptu concert went on for three hours.
“It was just a stunning evening for us,” says Paul. “The combination of acoustic piano and seven–string guitar gives you just an incredible amount of freedom to interpret what each other is going to do, and find the best way to accentuate it. We wound up just having a ball playing as a duo.”
In 2011, they recorded an album together, Just Friends: The Hamilton Hall Sessions, right here in Savannah.
It’s an organic set of standards, including “Autumn Leaves,” “Moon River,” “I Only Have Eyes For You” and “Laura.”
Cutting the album, Paul reports, was James’ idea. “The Hamilton Hall sessions were really born out of the fact that we had already started performing with this acoustic guitar and acoustic piano duo.”
Bob James and Howard Paul
With Delbert Felix on standup bass
Where: The Jazz Corner, 1000 William Hilton Parkway, Hilton Head, S.C.
When: At 8 p.m. Feb 3 and 4
Tickets: Sold Out (call for last–minute availability)
Phone: (843) 842–8620